To read part 3.3 click here, or start from the beginning. Again, thanks to Luz for sending me a copy of this lost tome.
Not a minute later Fen appeared at the door. "Guests are arriving now," he informed me. He looked tense, even a little worried, and I had a sudden inexplicable urge to give him a reassuring hug. I resisted that urge, since that only complicated my indecision on whether or not to "get him out of the picture," as Samarra had put it. Also, it wasn't manly, and I had taken enough blows to my manliness in the past week already.
To ease my conscience, I asked, "Something wrong?" in a tone that said I didn't really care.
Fen immediately smoothed his expression to pleasantly neutral. "Of course not," he responded. "It is not a life-or-death situation, it's a party."
I cringed inwardly. If you only knew.
The first guest through the door, naturally, was Almus Tobergus and a new pair of slaves, both muscled men. Perhaps these were the soldiers of whom he had boasted in the park. They were wearing shock collars and sullen expressions, but shot quick smiles to each other when they saw me. I guess getting beaten up by a slave isn't good when one makes a living training other slaves.
I tried to make myself unobtrusive. To be honest, I had no idea what my purpose was at this party. Was I proof that Fenton White was real Nitkani, that he had the balls to trade in human flesh? I might have been eye candy, but I was even more uncomfortable with that idea, so I avoided eye contact and stayed in the background.
People poured through the door and I wandered around, avoiding Almus and Fen and Samarra, which was not an easy task. Alfevi wanted everyone to know who had designed my "terribly magnificent evening attire," and Samarra was sending me looks that said Find a place where we can talk. I pretended complete confusion, as if I couldn't read body language, and moseyed out of her sight looking pretty but stupid. Occasionally she would pop up in my peripheral vision and I would have to slink out of the room again. I finally snuck out to the conservatory and hid behind a large flowering plant of some sort to eat the appetizers I had filched.
"What are you doing here?" came Fen's voice from beside me. I jumped a near mile in the air and the appetizers flew out of my hands.
"What the fuck?" I sputtered. "Are you hiding at your own party?" Fen actually looked abashed, and I laughed softly. "You're the worst host ever."
"I would have said that I was looking for someone, or something. Ass."
"I'll kick it, if you're offering."
Fen's mouth turned up at a corner. "Smart ass. That's what I meant."
I elbowed him. When he smiled, it was hard not to like him at least a little bit.
"Oh hey," I snapped my fingers. "Mrs. Cupps told me not to take any wooden coins. Do you have money made of wood?"
Fen had to cover his mouth to keep his laughs quiet as a couple entered the conservatory and starting lip-locking passionately underneath a fern. "No, you idiot. It's an expression. If someone were offering you a gold-covered wooden coin, you'd be getting cheated, correct?"
"So, she was telling you not to take any offers the might look golden on the surface, but are actually made of wood," Fen explained. "All things are not as they seem, etcetera."
My thoughts immediately swung to sexy Samarra and her escape plan. I hadn't even thought about the flaws before. I couldn't stay in the trunk of a hovercar for very long, and once I got out then where would I be? I didn't want to be hunted down for murder as well as escaping, and if Samarra was going to off Alfevi (and possibly a chauffeur) I would be counted as an accessory.
"Double damn," I swore softly.
Fen raised his eyebrows. "Already took some wooden coins, eh?"
"No." Not yet, at least. Something at the back of my brain told me that there was another reason I was skeptical of Samarra's plan, something that had a lot to do with a tingle at the top of my spine. I told that something to shut the fuck up.
"Is Almus bothering you yet?" Fen asked conversationally.
I didn't get why he was being so buddy-buddy with me all of a sudden, but I was willing to go with it. I realized how badly I missed Juniper and my family; nobody here save Gloria Cupps seemed to care much about my emotional health. Fen was being friendly, and not since my wedding day had I talked with a friend.
"I've been avoiding him," I admitted. "There was some overly enthusiastic space hockey fan in there, so I just talked to him whenever Tobergus got close."
"You mean Mr. Kraskow? The old bald man with the beaky nose and dead--goat breath?"
I smiled at the description. "The very one," I confirmed.
"Then what you meant to say is that you nodded occasionally while he talked," Fen corrected.
"Well," I mused, "he did ask me a lot of questions in-depth about secret team strategies."
Fen nodded, "That's because he owns Gray Terror. He probably wanted to get the advantage future international games."
"Oh." I shrugged. "Guess it's a good thing I pretended I only knew about four words in Nitkan, and none of them having to do with space hockey."
Fen laughed at that, then sighed. "I need to get back and play the host," he groaned.
"Couldn't you send everyone to bed early?" I asked. "It is your house, after all."
"It's a thought," Fen agreed. "Meet me in the front hall in an hour. You can be my excuse to go to bed early."
I grimaced. I hoped that didn't mean I would be expected to put out. Before leaving our hiding spot Fen rubbed his hand over his mouth a couple of times, mussed up his hair, and jumped in place a few times.
"What the hell are you doing?" I asked him, cocking my head.
Fen gave me a dirty grin that nestled itself in the pit of my stomach. "I'm making it look like I was gone for a reason. You should do the same."
"No thanks," I said brightly. "I'm sure you'd look just as satisfied as if you had been out here jacking off."
Quicker than I could react, Fen had me in a headlock and was messing up my hair.
"Hey!" I protested, trying to shove him off me. Fen covered my mouth with his hand to silence me, and I did the mature thing and licked him. He wiped my saliva onto my forehead, then let me loose. I scowled at him and he grinned.
"See? Now we both have an excuse."
I shoved him. "Pervert. What kind of host sneaks off to have sex in the middle of his own party?" I headed back to the house.
Fen shrugged innocently. "A rich, enigmatic Nitkani does," he responded, "then if he's extremely mysterious he'll act as though nothing had happened, and not touch his companion for the rest of the night."
"Thanks." I was almost genuine.
"You're welcome. Feel free to make eyes at me when my back is turned and sigh in excess."
"So you can be mysterious and a great lay?" I snorted. "That's just too much. I'm sorry. Alfevi's girls already asked me if you had a donkey dick."
Fen grinned, "You mean Tana and Riki? They have vivid imaginations."
I was surprised he knew their names. "I set them straight, of course."
"So they know for sure I have a donkey dick."
I punched him in the shoulder, but couldn't keep a laugh from bursting from my throat as we reentered the house. It drew a lot of attention to us, and I turned bright red and scuttled into the kitchen to escape the leers. Fen was probably stone-faced and composed, the bastard.
Luck deserted me when I got into the kitchen and found Samarra about to walk out the other door.
"There you are," she purred.